"Adventure is a path. Real adventure-
self determined, self motived, often risky-
forces you to have firsthand encounters with the
world. Your body will collide with the earth and
you will bear witness. In this way you will be
compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness
and bottomless cruelty of humankind-and perhaps
realize that you yourself are capable of both.
This will change you. Nothing again will ever
be black and white" Mark Jenkins
Another year. New resolutions to be made, kept, or broken. The eternal quest to better oneself, often without the realization that the self we are now is not the self we were ten years ago or five years ago or even a year ago. Life is not all that changes. We do as well. I realize how much the bicycling community has changed when 8 others show for a century ride when the starting temperatures are in the high teens to low twenties depending upon whose thermostat you believe.
It used to be that a winter century ride was considered a huge success if five people showed. Normally it was three or four, and at times just two, that would face the frigid temperatures for a day of riding. And even though the prediction today is for sun most of the day and light winds, eight surprises me. But then the cycling gods of winter have been kind the past few years with milder temperatures and lesser winds. I will be more believing of the change when it is predicted to be in the twenties or below all day with stronger winds. I briefly remember one winter ride when I had to warn the others not to ride next to me since the crosswind was so strong I could not hold my line reliably. And the attendees have changed other than a few treasured friends that have continued to maintain their love of cycling and to challenge their legs and themselves, to "rage against the dying of the light."
The Short Frankfort Century is not my favorite ride, mainly because it is significantly less than a hundred miles and I have to ride by myself afterwards, but I schedule it because we have not ridden to Frankfort for awhile. Why do I have to round it out to 100 miles. Well, because of the Big Dogs Century Challenge. I have ridden at least one century every month since November of 2003. There are those that log on the site that have ridden more, but they started when I did not yet ride a bicycle. The challenge gets me out the door even when the warm bed sings her siren call on a frigid winter morn and it would be all too easy to talk myself out of riding. Putting a ride on the club schedule serves the same purpose. Frankly, company on winter centuries was one main reason I joined the Louisville Bicycle Club. I had ridden a few winter centuries on my own, and I knew that company would make them easier and that I would learn from others. I owe Eddie Doerr for telling me about the web site, and I still think of him frequently during rides. I also owe him for telling me about the Mad Dogs, though he did not warn me how they would resist my joining their winter group of riders. But that is another story.
Today I am much better prepared to ride than I was when I first began to ride winter centuries in 2003. I am not necessarily stronger, but I have learned about wool and clothing and equipment to minimize the possibility of needing to be dragged in. My bicycle is better. Still, I was tougher then. Now I am more likely to cancel, to talk myself out of riding, to miss the adventures that life holds if you only open your eyes, gird your loins, and take a chance.
It is good to see people that I have not seen since before Christmas. My son and his wife visited for two weeks, and I stayed home and luxuriated in the glow of their company. Not everyone has children who want to come home for two weeks to spend time with their mother, and I appreciate my good fortune that they feel this is a second home and enjoy spending time with me. I have thoroughly enjoyed myself, but I am ready to resume my normal life as were they. Still, I am not feeling particularly talkative today. Mainly, after catching up on the basics of how everyone and their loved ones are doing, I just want to ride but to have companionship so that the road is not so lonely or so long. Friends can make a long way shorter somehow, just by being there. As I told a young one yesterday, sometimes it just feels good to get a hug, even if it is not a physical hug. The presence of friends wraps itself around me like the warmest of blankets. Ironically, however, there is no place I would rather be than on the road riding a century and watching the scenery pass.
Snow laces the ground like a patchwork quilt, a mix of snow with grass peaking out randomly in patches, not nearly as thick as it is just an hour north where the snow continues to hide the grass. Too much time has passed for this to be a pretty snow. It has yielded to dirt and is gray. Still there is a certain beauty. Mostly the roads seem clear, but there are the occasional patches of ice that have not yet yielded to the suns blandishments. I hope that nobody falls, but if they do it is part of the bargain that your bicycle makes with you. Yes, she will allow you to enjoy her, to ride her and share with her the pleasures and pains of uphills and downhills and flats where you can race the wind, but eventually you will fall and pay your dues. Hopefully it will be just a bit of road rash or a minor break. Sometimes, it is more, much more. Each rider has to determine if the risk is worth it. Yes, life can be lived more safely by not riding a bicycle, but at the end of it will you have the memories that adventure and risk can bring? One of the many faults I believe that I had as a parent was teaching my children to live life too safely, to consider consequences before taking action. Sensible yes. But wise? Sometimes I don't know.
It is pleasant to have sunlight stretched before me, to see the line of bicycles and their riders, to hear the sounds of shoes clipping in, and wheels turning. I am glad to be alive and healthy and to be able to ride a hundred miles on January morning. I am glad to have friends that share my passion. I like the way my lungs stretch themselves to accommodate the increased need for oxygen during hills, and I enjoy the tingling in my thighs after a sustained effort that tells me they are faltering but gaining strength for the coming cycling season. I like that I no longer need to feel the need to press the pace on every ride, but I can sit back and ride as I will: slowly at times and not so slowly at other times. I thoroughly enjoy the third store stop when a few of us gather around the ancient wood stove feeling the heat seep into every crack and crevice of our being, knowing we will pay when we go back to face the cold yet totally unable to pull ourselves away.
I did not like it so much when a dog grabs my heel shortly after we left Frankfort, but he did no damage other than to awaken bad memories and old fears that I have largely conquered. And again, this is part of the bargain you make with your bicycle. We share the road, not only with automobiles but with dogs and joggers squirrels and cats and even cows or lose livestock.
When we are back in the park, my reverie broken only after I finish out my last few miles on my own. Soon I am home, returned to the womb of a steaming hot bath, savoring the memories of a day well spent. While this ride did not have any significant adventures, it was a pleasant way to spend a January day and I will sleep well tonight. Perhaps I will dream of friends and bicycles and dogs and wood stoves. Who knows.